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Okay, sometimes you have to wait for Christmas Presents…

25 Dec

We’ve all gotten “gifts written on cards” during the “holidays”…

You know, “The card is redeemable for X” kinda stuff.

On several of our blogs (and even on our facebook page) we’ve been talking about chicken coops lately. Many of us live in areas where it’s possible to raise chickens for both eggs and meat. And, some of us live in places where there are other critters who like that idea too.

The hardest part of building  “outbuildings” is that they require a footprint in your yard.

(Oh stop it! I heard that! You don’t have to say; “Doh!” so loudly!) 🙂

My point is that you want those buildings to multi-task if at all possible. The more they do, the less you build, right? Now me, I’m building and then laying down paths as much as possible, because it means less lawn to mow, but others… well… they like their grass.

One of our readers “issued” one of these “IOU Holiday Gift Cards” to his wife, who raises chickens. Now, he didn’t really consult with us first…

He just “Hail Mary’d” us after he actually did it…

He “challenged” us to figure it out. In other words, he wants us to bail his sorry butt out. Oy. 🙂

Hey, we’re always up for a challenge. And we already know that his wife is getting really P.O.’d at the local deer population, that seems to think her potted herb plants are then tastiest things on the planet.

So, what we’re proposing is that we use a small ISBU to build a chicken coop near some trees. Insulated and then “veneered” with wood planking harvested on site. the “coop” roof will reach out to embrace a pair of trees, allowing a large deck to be constructed several feet up off the ground. This elevated deck will be the perfect place for her to raise her herbs, far out of the reach of the local deer. (Imagine that… deer pre-spiced and herbed”… I’m gonna have to give that some thought… maybe while cradling a rifle…)

This deck serves two purposes. It also creates the area beneath it for the chickens to play, carefully fenced and protected from critters who think them “tasty”….

It’s going to look something like this;

ISBU Treehouse Chicken Coop

Now, before you get all “gushy”, note that while we were thinking along similar lines, we didn’t create  the original structure in this “fourth and twenty” plan. It was originally constructed out of wood by an architect in Vienna, Austria (Erwin Stättner) as a playhouse for his kids. The “hutch”, located below the decking was built to protect the family’s prized rabbit from local foxes. We’re simply replicating it using a Corten Steel ISBU as the primary structure and then converting the lower space to a chicken coop capable of sustaining several chickens.

Stay tuned for more information on this really cool “Chicken Castle!”

And from all of us, to all of you;

“Have a VERY Merry Christmas and the Happiest of Holidays!”

We’ll see you guys and gals after the New Year.  🙂

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Finally a way for Corten Containers to get you into hot water in public!

13 Dec

We live in the mountains of Montana. It gets COLD here. Subzero cold. Sometimes it lasts for weeks.

We’ve found that nothing beats the heck out of a chill like a hot bath.

We’re the “Kings of Corten”. We do things with these boxes that many can’t even imagine. We’ve been doing it for 35 years…

But every once in a while, somebody get’s a “crazy Corten idea” that makes us think, smile and then… grab the welders.

Anyone reading my blogs or Facebook page knows that ISBUs (Shipping containers) have been used to revolutionize housing for decades. We started hacking them up in the 70’s. We have ISBU homes in America that have their third generation of families living in them. Hell, we still had hairlines back then… 🙂

We’ve seen some pretty crazy ISBU stuff along the way including fortresses complete with corner lookout towers, high country ski cabins dropped in the rocks in the Alps, Corten pyramids piled 6 stories high and even extreme sports facilities that have scuba diving operations housed inside them.  Speaking of cabins, we’ve even seen them hanging from wires suspended between trees. Watch that first step! Oy! 🙂

Now a handful of guys have started a Kickstarter program to turn ISBUs into bathhouses. Yep. Bathhouses.

It’s not really that far-fetched. We’ve turned them into saunas.We’ve turned them into spa houses with a Jacuzzi tucked inside. We’ve turned them into freestanding shower facilities in some really remote locations.

But this? This brainstorm is called “SOAK”.


It’s basically a “green embrace” of bathhouses to give them a better reputation. We all know about bathhouses and the reputation that some claim they foster. But in other countries, public bathing is a social event as much as a hygiene one. The biggest problem with bathhouses is that they use a lot of energy. Or… do they?


The main premise behind SOAK is that it aims to remove some of the guilt which may result from being a regular visitor to resource-heavy spas or bathhouses, by using renewable energy sources and recycled shipping containers.

The concept calls for 10 percent of SOAK’s water to derive from collected rainwater, while its designers state that all required electricity would come from solar power thanks to photovoltaic cells on the roof.

The Kickstarter literature says that SOAK will be a well stocked bathing facilities, complete with cold plunge buckets, showers and a solarium. The guys planning SOAK say that the capacity would be dependent on a small physical footprint that would also make sustainable energy more practicable.


See more of this project, here:

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A box is a box…

29 Aug

Many fans of RR know that we’re involved in a lot of “unusual designs” where alternative housing is concerned.

Here’s one that we were NOT involved with, but we readily admit that we’ve had similar thoughts about a structure like this – using 20′ High Cube ISBUs;

This unusual design-build structure consists of a basement structure, with a manually-operated tilting metal box placed on top of it like a wedding cake topper.


Note that with little to no natural light available when the “lid” is secured, this dwelling is probably not going to work for those with a fear of being trapped in a small enclosed space…

… but if you’re looking to “Zombie-proof” your home, this might be a great starting point.

The 1 bedroom, 1 bath – with a basement – home  (I’d call it a cabin)  measures approximately 914 sq ft and contains a kitchen and living area located in the metal box above. A staircase gets you up and back into all the designated spaces.

But here’s the fun part;

The entire upper area of the home is transformed into a semi-outdoor space once raised with a steampunkish hand-crank, and the metal box itself is constructed from iron tubes, with a galvanized corrugated metal exterior and MDF interior.

(If it was me, I’d resolve that “open air” issue with retractable skirts made of mosquito netting or something to keep insects out. Can you imagine the reverberation of a thousand flying insects trapped in there, swarming around your head?) 😉

When the “lid” is closed, the structure is transformed into a sealed vault, private, secure and defensible against “any miscreants that might wander into your yard”… you know, like those “undead stumbling around looking for brains…”

The article about the home (featured in Arch Daily) says;

“The actual impetus behind THIS home’s unique design, and whether or not such mundane practicalities as adequate ventilation and fire safety issues have been fully handled, isn’t altogether clear.

“The project of Caja Oscura is a project of material and immaterial technology at the same time,” explains Javier Corvalán (the architect).

“In some way it is an antithesis of many known definitions of architecture, as the idea is made by absence of light.”

I can see how this could be done. And, it could be quite affordable. I’d still use a 20′ ISBU or two to pull it off as the increased strength that they would provide would be an asset in the face of heavy weather, zombies… or worse, visiting relatives. 😉

Built with a budget of $30,000 US, the home was completed in 2012 with a few grand left over for “stuff”… 😉

Consider this also;

When “open”, that raised lid “face” could be used as a splendid “photovoltaic farm”.

Cut in a few skylights or sola tubes to bring light into the cavity and it’d be a lot more comfortable.

Add a padlock hasp to the box so that you can sneak up and lower the box when it’s inhabited by your idiot brother in law and break out that bullet-resistant Master Padlock and you have the perfect place to teach that bozo a lesson for drinking all your frosty cold beverages…

I’m just saying…  🙂

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Everything is on FIRE…. again. Oy.

20 Aug

Okay, if things weren’t hectic enough…

Sunset on Fire - web

We spent the night “firespotting”…

Montana is a beautiful land, filled with mountains and rivers and creeks and “woodland creatures”…

Unfortunately, when it’s fire season, most of them end up in your “backyard”…

Uninvited but good with butter - web

I wonder how big a grill you need to spit and roast one of these “mack trucks on hooves”… 😉

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I’m “Dwelling” on Prefab Construction…

12 Aug

Dwell Magazine (one of the mot respected architectural magazines in the trade) recently put us in their “Special Issue – Prefab Sourcebook”. It’s an “Industry Resource Guide for Prefab Construction”.


In our view, ISBU construction is what Prefab became, when it grew up! 🙂

Dwell is, IMHO – the cutting edge of architecture. It’s the “go-to” well-spring when you need inspiration, answers and encouragement. And… Dwell has talked about us before. This time, they put our book “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings” in their “preferred reading list” category.

Dwell3You can find out more about our book in the sidebar.

When we asked “WHY?” (when inquiring about our inclusion in their “Special Issue”), they simply told us that;

“After seeing your work, we feel that people need to know who YOU are”.

Wow. Yes, we smiled smugly and felt like we were finally making a difference. Yes, we giggled with glee. Then… we looked at the pile of work on our desks… and we went back to work on ISBU projects scattered all over the globe.

About Prefab, Dwell went on to say:

“Dwell put prefab back on the mind map 12 years ago when we explored an “old” idea with innovative design minds eager to iterate a classic mid-century idea. Since then prefab has been innovated and evolved by smart designers the world over, and we return to it again and again because it is engages the hearts and minds of our readers and designers with the solutions it puts forth. It is a topic that people are drawn to with such zeal and interest because it inspires us to think of what is possible, and reminds us how beautiful prefab can be.”

We’re honored that the guys and gals at DWELL think highly enough of us to include us. We’ve been paying dues, one family at a time, for over 35 years. It’s about time our work started being noticed!

Stay tuned. We have some really exciting projects to share with you.

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Off-Grid Corten Cabins in the boonies! Good times!

9 Aug

Dear Ronin,

I can’t tell you how much your blog and our books have inspired us!

After years of talking about building an alternative home, we’re actually doing it! In just a few hours on the telephone, you basically walked in and slayed all the dragons we thought would consume us.  By the end of that first consulting session, we were chomping on the bit, wanting to bolt out of the barn and start running toward our future!

And now we’re doing it using your favorite thing in the whole wide world… 20′ High Cube ISBUs!

We have purchased some land (5 acres) and a pair of 20′ containers and we’re getting ready to start building an off-grid cabin that we’ll use at first simply to test ourselves as we work toward a “life lived sustainably” in a rural location. You beat us to death about securing an adequate water source and NOW, we finally get it. Our little chunk of heaven is right on a small river and we can irrigate our 5 acres by dropping a pump into the river to move water. There’s a big garden of heirloom crops in our future! 🙂

Our cabin is going to be pretty basic. It’s going to be approximately 16’x20′ on sonotube pilings, just like you’ve taught us.

20'd Homestead - WYWe love the idea that placing the cabin up off the ground like that will allow us to capitalize on the views and also to allow us to use the cooler air under it as a plenum to draw from.  We got this idea from your discussions about the cool air created under a bank of photovoltaic panels (framed on risers off the metal roofing) on the roof, that actually help keep them cool and running efficiently.

We’ll also use cross-ventilation to help heat and cool the cabin. Can you suggest a roof pitch or style for us to use?

We’re also going to build in a small kitchenette with a woodstove/oven and a small dorm refrigerator instead of a full blown kitchen. We don’t cook much and a lot of what we eat comes out of bags or cans. Admittedly it’s not Julia Childs, but it does the job and we’re happy with it.

Any basic tips you’d like to share with us?


20’d in our 40’s…


Dear 20’d,

Congrats. I wondered when you’d take the bull by the horns and start forging your future, As we talked, I just “felt” like you were headed for great things and NOW… you’re going to prove me right.

First. Stop thinking so “small”. I remember how you talked about your painting and “jigsaw puzzle marathons” and grandkids. Separate those boxes by at least 4′.  (Personally, I’d go 8′ if I was tasked with deciding.) If you follow my suggestions, you’re going to build a “slightly larger” cabin, but you’ll see in a moment why it will pay off in spades.

(And remember that “reclaiming space” is far less expensive than “building” it. By setting ISBUs apart and then connecting them using “standard” construction in-fill practices” you’ll gain square footage quite cost effectively, by simply “capturing” it.  )

You haven’t mentioned WHERE you are dropping your boxes (I’m assuming you’re building in America – probably Wyoming – from your IP address) , but your Corten Cabin will be far more energy efficient if you orient it on your site properly. Your site looks lovely. Truly peaceful and relaxing! Nice!

solar orientationOrientation: OF course, I’m talking about facing the long walls to the North and South.  Many people make the mistake of facing their long walls East and West and this orientation leads to “summer scalding” in the form of overheating.

Remember to take advantage of your environment when you build. Warm air rises when outside air is cooler. I can’t tell you how many Corten Cabins we’ve built with clerestory windows for venting  heat out of the house. We usually place them in the south wall where they can be accessed by either a pole or a loft for opening/closing.

(I’d have to say that if I had to pick one solid roof style for an ISBU cabin, the “Clerestory Corten Cabin” wins hands down, every time.)

Our Corten Cabins usually have a nice sleeping loft or an office/library/crafts/sewing room in the clerestory and this allows easy access to the clerestory windows. Use awning windows and you’ll get the added benefit of having windows that will shed rain and snow.

TIP: Don’t face large windows to the East or West. It’s best to most all of your windows on the South wall in a way that allows you to shade them from the summer sun.   Now, place small windows and doors in the North wall and you have your cross ventilation established.

In the Late Spring, Summer and early Fall, these upper windows are usually left open (or at least cracked) to bleed off collected heat.

A properly placed ceiling fan (we really like the “Big Ass Fan” guys) will help siphon off the heat so that it can be vented out to keep your cabin cool.

From their website:

Big Ass Fan Company is the preeminent designer and manufacturer of 6 ft. to 24′ diameter high volume/low speed (HVLS) ceiling and vertical fans developed to provide significant energy savings and improve occupant comfort year round in large commercial, industrial, agricultural, institutional and residential buildings. In the U.S., we are based in Lexington, KY and occupy a 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility, a 33,000 sq. ft. administrative office, and a LEED Gold Certified, 44,000 sq. ft. R&D facility.”

In other words, they’re “Made in America”, “cooler than the coolness they create” and frankly, we just love the fact that they think through every single aspect of their work with precision and professionalism. Their fans really ARE works of art. It doesn’t get better than these guys. Seriously.

And we know what we’re talking about  because we’re “hot air experts” – as most of the readership can attest… LOL!

Another cool thing about building a cabin in this clerestory style is that by adding that loft to your increased volume, you get more living space and storage in the same footprint. The idea is to build as much structure as you need… not more… and not less. UP is better than OUT, especially when it’s a loft.

 clerestory  cross-section
Clerestory roofs lend themselves to both rainwater harvesting AND the location of “solar farms” – photovoltaic panels placed to harness the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity.

About your kitchenette;

Nix the “dorm refrigerator” idea. Seriously. Don’t do it.  I say this for a number of reasons. The fact that you’re building a small cabin doesn’t diminish the amount of food storage you’ll need, in comparisons to the home you live in now.  No matter where you are, you still need to eat. I’ve never found an efficient dorm refrigerator. Ironically, they use the same amount of power as a full sized refrigerator in most instances. Shop for a decent full sized, energy efficient refrigerator and you’ll be way ahead in the long run. A refrigerator is nothing more than a “big cold pantry”. You can actually keep a lot of things in that larger refrigerator and that extra capacity won’t take up any more space than standard kitchen cabinets.

I’ll also point out it’s much more cost effective to buy and place a full sized refrigerator than it is to buy and install a base cabinet, countertops and then upper cabinets in equal sizes to duplicate that space..

This probably sounds crazy, but it’s true. Do the math and you’ll discover it for yourself, quickly.

For A/C and Heating in “the crunches”, you’re talking “mini-split” units. These units are energy efficient and are quite capable of heating and cooling a small cabin in a hurry. And a properly configured and sized mini-split won’t kill your photovoltaic panel/battery bank operation either.

I have a series of posts slated for later this summer that will discuss mini-split units in depth. Stay tuned for the series…

Until next time…
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“Living Walls” Rule…

18 Jul

Okay, many of you know that here at ISBU Central, we’re building a rather expansive facility in Montana, with the goals of providing a home for a “Sustainability Center”. The idea is to give families a good, close look at not only building ISBU homes, but then integrating sustainable practices into their lifestyles to allow them to overcome hardship and live better lives.

It’s a lifelong dream becoming reality and it’s changed the way that I look at my surroundings.

Montana is lush, green and beautiful. Structure is imposing, monumental and usually NOT designed to augment it’s placement. So, we’re taking hard looks at HOW we build, where we put it and then… how we help those structures exist symbiotically with their  surroundings.

One of our goals is to live “unseen” right out in the open. That means that we’re addressing perimeters in a different way than most people.

I’ve been thinking about “living walls” (sometimes referred to as “green screens”) for a long time now.

Living walls are certainly garnering  supporters in the fight against poor air quality. Living walls have already proven themselves to be a key weapon in the fight against poor air quality in our cities.

In the July 2012 edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers investigated the potential health improvements that could be generated if more vegetation was strategically positioned in our busy roads. The research found that there could be a 30% reduction in our streets’ pollution levels through the intelligent use of living walls.

As well as turning carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis, plants clean the air by soaking up nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. The bonus of using living walls compared to say… trees,  is the huge amount of space and time they save.

Did you know that a 200 square foot living wall will remove the same number of pollutant particulates from the air as an average-sized tree? Or that the ivy that these screens usually incorporate is also effective at absorbing pollutants? Better still, a green screen can be installed pretty quickly (like, over a weekend), while a tree can take many years to reach any stature.

Green screens are being installed in many public venues. They install them at stadiums, civic centers and public spaces. They’ve even been used in  multi-story car parks on the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. Okay, so I can’t have a Formula One race car in my barn… but I CAN have the green walls that they race around…

I suppose I’m just settling, but it’ll do… for now! LOL!

And remember that living walls are not just about improving the air quality. If you really think about how you use them, they can deter graffiti, promote more sensible road use, enhance security and privacy, and promote a sense of well-being and calm.

Living walls can also form an integral part of a roof garden when your space is at a premium.

And, best of all, they are beautiful. Let’s face it… walls can be ugly and downright unattractive. But with a living wall, an inert, lifeless space can be transformed into something vibrant and attractive. In this way, living walls have the potential to transform spaces, be they public or private,  for the better – converting the drab into the desirable while also purifying the very air we breathe.

And, that’s what we have in mind for the farm. Farms should be organic, living breathing things. What better way to define them than by incorporating living walls into their design, to designate and define space?

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Recycled Respites

13 May

Here on RR, we talk a LOT about using “found” materials.

This leads to an email folder full of hate mail from irate housing pros (who also whine that we’re “UnAmerican” for “stealing jobs from them”), who claim that we’re teaching you to use garbage to build structure.

Bull. We’ve NEVER advised anyone to use “junk” to build with. We don’t teach people to build “hovels”. We teach them to build, strong,  sustainable, AFFORDABLE homes.

What we HAVE advised you to do is to find innovative ways to use materials (within specification and purpose, of course) to lower your building or even (gasp!) furnishing costs.

These same guys will tell you that you can’t really build “anything” for under $150 a square foot.

We usually suggest that they double up on their meds and read more. Maybe they’ll learn something.

Do we collect and use materials like “scrap” rigid insulation in our builds? You bet.

“Rigid” performs extremely well. You can find it in dumpsters at commercial build sites all the time. Ask a contractor or “yard  boss” and they may just let you haul it off. It gets that bulky stuff out of their dumpster so that they have room for more garbage. We see it on Craigslist and Freecycle, all the time. Is using it “labor intensive”? YES. You take large, cast off scrap pieces of foam and then piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle. It takes some forethought to get it right.  But, it costs you SWEAT instead of cash. The benefit is that you get a high performance insulation package out of the deal.

But you can find gems in (actually UNDER) the stuff that gets delivered to your building site as well;

palletbedThis is a bed that you could build in a few hours, tops.

Some thoughts;

  1. Sand the pallets (edges) to make them less prone to snagging your sheets or shins.
  2. Nail pallets together to keep them from moving once you’ve established your “pattern”.
  3. Use recycled LED Christmas Tree lights to illuminate under the bed. Low power and low heat.
  4. Remember that beds aren’t just for “sleeping”. If you’re in a relationship (or you are building this for a child)  consider putting a box springs under the mattress, to help “fortify” the bed system.

And then, have fun with it. While your neighbors are spending boatloads on high priced furnishings, you’ll have cash left over for “family nights”. 🙂

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ISBUs repel everything… including “Spring”!

16 Apr

Okay, so I thought I’d travel south to find “Spring”. Heck, we have ISBU projects everywhere. Spring has to be “somewhere”, right?

Waiting for “Spring” in Montana was turning out to be a bust. So, I thought that if Spring wouldn’t come to me… I’d go to it, even if it meant a thousand miles.

I guess you can wish until the cows come home, but some things just don’t change.

A day ago (I kid you not), the ISBU “drop area” looked like this;

Drop Zone

Using my truck for “scale”, you can tell that these are 40′ High Cube ISBUs.

Single trip boxes, no less. Pricey. NICE boxes. Nothing but the good stuff for this project!

Drop Zone II

Yes, there’s a bunch of them.

The site is clear, the boxes are here and it’s time to start making something that looks like progress, right? It’s not like we don’t have a plan for these boxes!

Yet, building isn’t without challenges. I mean, it’s rained a little bit and the ground has gotten a little mushy, but it’s really no big deal.

And then…

We get “hijacked” by that mother of all myths… “Spring”.


THIS is why you always set ISBUs on railroad ties. That way, your boxes don’t settle into the soil.


Guess what they didn’t do? Ugh. We’re gonna be digging those boxes out for days. 😦

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It’s almost Spring… at least… HERE.

18 Mar

Many readers know I just spent a bunch of time time “down south”…

No! Not “the Dirty Dirty”, or Miami… but (gasp!) Colorado.

It’s “Horse Country”.  And, I own horses. As I drove around Colorado and Wyoming in “Places Equestrian”… it gave me pause to think my own “horse housing dilemma”…

Okay, admittedly, I have to deal with my “elk dilemma” first. I can’t turn around lately without having to chase them out of the yard. Some St Patty’s Day. No cold beer. No Corned Beef. Just “Elk Chasing” in the snow! Bah!




For all the elk on the property, you’d think we were raising the darn things. 🙂

I guess I’ll just have to buy another freezer…

You see, we’re building a “Sustainability Center”. No, not one of those “Vegan Retreats”, or “Castaway Communes”…. but a real “grass roots” place where we can try new techniques, teach new skills and live like most of our grandparents did… by using our hands and our backs. And every night, we’ll be feasting on grass fed beef, local venison or tasty elk chased with a good glass or two of RED!  Yum! 🙂

But I was talking about horses;

In Montana, you turn horses out to graze. Hey, I mean… HAY and grass are all over the place. While most of the country laments hard times, we’re usually hip deep in hay and grass for our livestock to graze on. But in winter, the “graze” is covered in several feet of snow. So, you pull horses in to feed them. That means “feeding stalls” so that you can control your hay.

So, I gotta build something.

What do you get when you take a pair of 40 or 48” ISBUs, a quartet of 20′ ISBUs, a pair of truck doors and enough SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) to build a proverbial battleship?

20 horse Barn Elevation Concept

You get a “double sided” “H-Shaped” Barn big enough to feed 20-24 horses. You also get several tons of hay storage and a tack room large enough to make a Cavalry Officer giddy…

Better still, it’s all on one level with no ladders or lofts to navigate. When you’re a “Senior Citizen”, that’s important. 🙂

Yep, it’s official. I got my AARP membership card in the mail. Oy. I’m doomed! LOL!

And, because this new set of barns will be made of “Steel and SIPs”, they aren’t not gonna get their butts kicked by most Montana Storms…

In fact, we’ll use that roof plane to harvest rainwater and snow melt.

You can relax, though. I won’t be wearing any “White Hats” or riding any “White Chargers” any time soon… Black hats and big black horses suit me just fine! LOL!

Stay tuned. This should be fun.

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